How to improve the managerial link to productivity

The University of Melbourne's professor Bill Harley is looking improve the manager link to productivity

Debates around productivity improvement are largely inconsequential unless organisations can find and implement innovative ways to build management capabilities and encourage effective people management, according to The University of Melbourne.

“Centralised HR functions can put in place policies and procedures to encourage good practice, but we know that to be effective these sorts of systems require active involvement from frontline managers, with support from HR specialists,” said the university’s Bill Harley, professor of management & associate dean (global engagement) in the faculty of business and economics.

“Frontline managers commonly feel that they have little or no control over important aspects of people management, but is this really true? In practice, most line managers have much more scope to influence outcomes than they might think.”

Frontline managers often argue that they have little control over recruitment and selection and training, but Harley said managers can influence whether organisations have people with the right knowledge, skills and abilities in a number of ways.

“Managers who do not have control over organisational training programs can still encourage staff to take up opportunities to participate in training. They can also aid staff skill development by sharing their own skills and experience through, for example, formal or informal mentoring,” he said.

“In practice, most line managers have much more scope to influence outcomes than they might think”

“Frontline managers often tell me that they can’t motivate staff because they don’t control pay systems in their organisation. But there are other ways to motivate staff, which are clearly within the control of line managers.”

Staff are motivated by regular informal feedback on their performance and constructive suggestions about how to improve it, and Harley said there is also a clear link between regular developmentally-focused and structured appraisals and performance.

“Work organisation and job design, in particular, are things which many line managers claim to have little control over,” he said.

“This may be true when it comes to formal job specifications, but there are many ways that employees’ jobs can be enriched. For example, line managers can encourage their staff to share ideas for improving work processes.

“They can also facilitate some variety in tasks, so that employees can use their full range of skills. I am not suggesting that this is necessarily easy, but my point is that line managers have much more scope to influence outcomes via effective people management than they think.”

For Bill Harley’s full discussion on how organisations can improve productivity, see the next issue of Inside HR magazine.